It's Okay To Not To Not Feel The Cheer

I see memes like this all the time around the holidays.  These are usually posted by well-meaning liberals who just want everyone to get along.  I understand the sentiment.  "Stop this War on Christmas crap!  Stop being too sensitive if it's not your holiday.  Can't you just take it when someone wishes you well?"

Here is my take on it.  We can all just get along fine, but being forced to feel the love whenever you receive a holiday greeting is not required to get along.

Every year around this time of year someone passes around this little bit by Ben Stein, Republican speechwriter, character actor, and the Token Jew of the Religious Right.

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees. 

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crib, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

So the message is, "Everyone stop being so sensitive when someone says, 'Merry Christmas'.  It's just a cheerful greeting.  Take it as a compliment."  We're supposed to listen to Ben Stein.  He's Jewish, remember?  He's a big, rational intellectual type (never mind that he made a ridiculous "documentary" about poor science teachers being persecuted for teaching nonscientific hypotheses in a science classroom).  Gen-Xers love him.  He's the "Anyone...anyone" guy!"

Once upon a time I would have agreed with him.  I agreed with him adamantly.  Who cares what someone says to you as a greeting during the holidays.  You're just wishing someone well.  Are we supposed to say, "Have a rotten day because you don't celebrate Christmas?"

Then one day everything changed.  It changed when I found myself on the other side.  If you don't feel like reading that entire blog post, I'll quickly recap it.  I have never once said to anyone that I was Jewish.  I have never told anyone I know that I celebrate Hanukkah.  I have never once given any indication to anyone that I am Jewish at all.  Yet people will continue to assume I'm Jewish because my name just sounds Jewish to them.  I have been told that I don't "seem Italian" and yet I'm sure if my name were Gina Mantucci, no one would be assuming I'm Jewish instead of a mutt of Italian and Swiss (that's where the name comes from) extraction.  To cut a long story short, due to these assumptions I received a Hanukkah card from people who have known me for years.  I was by no means insulted.  I was flattered that these friends who had never sent me a holiday card today actually put me on their list.  Nonetheless, it felt weird and awkward.  I don't celebrate Hanukkah and almost never have unless it was because I was invited to someone else's home to celebrate.  I remember thinking at that very moment, This must be how a non-Christian must feel when being told "Merry Christmas".  

Years later when Jewish coworker, who didn't know me very well and probably was making assumptions based on the name, wished me Happy New Year on Rosh Hoshanna.  I knew she meant well, but I almost felt bad accepting the greeting and wishing her Happy New Year in return.

Before the Internet was awash in holiday memes and I could easily look up stories and essays, I read an essay by a Jewish man who was dealing with his feelings of being innundated by Christmas cheer this time of year. Unfortunately, since this was pre-Internet, I don't have a copy of the article to repost here.  The one point the article made was how uncomfortable a non-Christian can feel when being wished a Merry Christmas.  Please note I said uncomfortable and not offended.  There is a difference.  The author of the article stated that being wished a Merry Christmas when you are Jewish is like being wished a happy birthday on someone else's birthday. 

Are any of these viewpoints wrong?  No they aren't.  We are all entitled to feel the way we do at this time of year.  The problem now is that we are being made to feel like we don't have a right to our opinion.  If you say that it makes you uncomfortable to be surrounded by the trappings of a holiday you don't celebrate or by being given a holiday greeting, it is treated as if you are taking offense, and that makes others offended.

It seems that if you aren't all smiles and happiness and Christmas cheer, even the well-meaning liberals are grabbing you by the lapels and screaming, "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST TAKE THE COMPLIMENT?  WE'RE WISHING YOU WELL.  CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND?  STOP BEING SO OFFENDED.  YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM.  YOU MUST ACCEPT MY HOLIDAY GREETING."

While I agree that it's silly to take offense (it isn't about you, or offending you), I'm tired of this idea that everyone has to like it.  I'm tired of seeing people who don't celebrate Christmas being told they don't have a right to feel uncomfortable.  Why do we have to invalidate the feelings of someone who feels uncomfortable?  We should all be allowed to feel the way we feel as long as acting on our feeling doesn't hurt anyone.  Unfortunately, if someone were to politely respond to a "Merry Christmas" with, "Thank you, but I don't celebrate Christmas," it would be considered a personal affront and the height of rudeness.  Yet really it's not more rude than saying, "Thank you for wishing me a happy birthday, but my birthday was two months ago." 

Why do we take it so personally, why are we offended, when someone doesn't want to participate in the holiday cheer we are trying to spread?  Just as we may not mean to personally offend someone when we wish him a "Merry Christmas," no one means to offend us back when hearing that greeting makes her uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, having someone not reflect our well wishes has us flying into a rage.

I suppose in the end it's all about power.  Once upon a time, this country was firmly in the grip of Christianity.  Sure there were people practicing other religions, but with Christianity as the majority religion there was an assumption out there that everyone had to either publicly celebrate Christmas, or take their celebrations underground.  It wasn't just a majority religion, but a dominant culture.  Now that secularism is on the rise and non-Christian religions are asking for more recognition and the right to reject Christian culture, it feels like a loss of power.  The "War on Christmas" fear isn't about no longer being able to celebrate Christmas in public.  It's about seeing the culture you were raised in lose its influence in the broader society.  No one's right to celebrate Christmas is being compromised.  However, the right to not celebrate Christmas is being legitimized and that scares some people.  If they lose power in the religious space, where else will they lose their power and influence?

I hope that this season no one ever be made to feel their feelings are invalid or wrong.  We have a right to not participate in holiday cheer.  There is a difference between feeling offended and feeling uncomfortable.  I only ask that if any person dislikes holiday cheer and holiday greetings, he should not be a jerk about it.  One can be gracious and still express his feelings. 

I generally avoid the entire trap by not saying anything to anyone in general.  I don't go around giving people holiday greetings, especially if I don't know if they celebrate a holiday or not and which holiday they celebrate.  If it's not Christmas day, I won't say "Merry Christmas" to someone who hasn't said it to me first. I certainly would never say it to someone whose religion I didn't know or who wasn't directly celebrating Christmas with me.  If you give me a greeting first, I will give you a greeting in return, but in my daily life I don't share holiday greetings with strangers or short acquaintances.

Quite frankly, it seems to me that the War on Christmas brigade are the ones who are the most obnoxious.  It's not the non-Christians who are going around insisting the world bend to some "politically correct" (how I hate that term) standard.  It's the self-righteous Christmas people who demand the world wish them "Merry Christmas" and obnoxiously state that they won't ever say anything else - others' feelings are not important.  I would rather someone not give me a holiday greeting at all than give me a greeting with attitude.


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